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Lipid Profile

Are you at high risk for heart disease? The results of a lab test called a lipid profile are one factor that goes into determining heart disease risk. It's a simple test that provides useful information and one that doctors recommend for all adults, regardless of their risk for heart disease.

Lower Cholesterol Naturally

What Is a Lipid Profile?

A lipid profile is a group of blood tests that measures the quantity of different lipids or fats in the bloodstream. Increased levels of some lipids are linked with a higher risk for coronary heart disease -- the most common cause of death in the U.S. Doctors can use the results of a lipid profile along with other information such as family history, blood pressure and lifestyle habits to estimate a person's risk for developing heart disease. If the results of a lipid profile are abnormal, they can suggest lifestyle changes or prescribe medications to bring them into a more normal range.

What Does a Lipid Profile Measure?

A lipid profile typically measures four kinds of lipids -- total cholesterol, low density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL), high density lipoprotein (HDL) and triglycerides. Some profiles also include a ratio of LDL to HDL and total cholesterol to HDL ratio. These ratios provide additional information about heart disease risk.

Most people are aware of how high their total cholesterol is, but fewer know their LDL, HDL and triglyceride levels. LDL is the bad form of cholesterol that sticks to arteries and increases the risk of heart disease, while HDL is a good form of lipid since higher levels are linked with a lower risk for heart disease and heart attack. Elevated triglyceride levels are associated with a higher risk for heart disease and stroke, but high levels may be seen in some medical conditions including diabetes, an underactive thyroid gland, pancreatitis and liver disease. Triglyceride levels also increase in some people who eat a high carbohydrate diet.

Normal Cholesterol Levels

How Is a Lipid Profile Done?

Prior to a lipid profile, you'll usually be asked to fast for at least 12 hours, although it's okay to drink water. On the day of the test, a technician draws a tube of blood from a vein and sends it to the lab for testing. The lab runs the appropriate tests and gives the results to your doctor. It's a simple procedure that requires one needle stick.

Fasting is important before a lipid profile since the triglyceride reading may not be accurate if you've recently eaten a meal, although some experts now think that non-fasting lipid profiles could be more useful for determining heart disease risk than fasting ones.

Eggs and Cholesterol

Why Is It Important to Know Your Lipid Profile?

From the results of a lipid profile, doctors can estimate your risk for heart disease, although other factors such as lifestyle, age, blood pressure and family history enter into the equation. If your lipid levels are abnormal and your doctor recommends therapy, a lipid panel may be repeated at intervals to see if the therapy is working. 

Reviewed by Dr. Jennifer Monti, MD, MPH

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